ST. GEORGE – As he addressed the U.S. Senate Monday, Sen. Orrin Hatch announced he will introduce legisation to the Senate this week focused on promoting school safety in the wake of the shooting massacre at a Parkland, Florida high school two weeks ago that killed 17 students and faculty members.
Called the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act, or the STOP School Violence Act, Hatch, R-Utah, said it would provide Justice Department grants for programs designed help prevent school violence. Florida Republican Rep. John Rutherford, a former sheriff, is the author of the bill.
The funding would go toward four initiatives, Hatch said:
- First, it will provide grant funding for evidence-based training to prevent student violence against others and self, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel and students. This is not just active shooter training, but training designed to give students and teachers the knowledge to recognize and properly respond to warning signs or signals to stop school violence before it occurs.
- Second, the bill will fund evidence-based technology and equipment to improve school security and prevent school violence. This includes the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems like the SafeUT app, as well as improvements to school security infrastructure to deter and respond to threats of school violence. And when prevention efforts fall short – as they unfortunately will in some cases – locks on classroom doors, reinforced entryways, and other commonsense security infrastructure improvements will help limit the violence.
- Third, the bill will provide funding for the development and operation of evidence-based school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams, which may include evidence-based training for school officials in responding to mental health crises. Again, school personnel need the tools to assess and respond to threats before they materialize, including those threats that originate from individuals struggling with mental health issues.
- Finally, the bill will provide funding for continued coordination with local law enforcement. Law enforcement alone cannot prevent school violence – just as no amount of prevention training, security infrastructure improvements or mental health resources would be able to singularly prevent tragedies like that in Parkland. But law enforcement, and in particular, those officers who already staff schools, have an important role to play in any comprehensive solution to prevent school violence.
While no single piece of legislation can keep children safe harm, Hatch said, lawmakers should nonetheless come together and focus on what can be done, and do it, rather than talk about what can’t be done.
“Fortunately, solutions on the state level – including in my home state of Utah – can help show us the way forward,” Hatch said.
Hatch held up Utah as an example of how lawmakers set aside their politics and joined with mental health and law enforcement groups to find ways to prevent school violence.
One of those solutions is the SafeUT smartphone app and text and tip line.
“The Safe Utah Crisis Text and Tip Line is a statewide service that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program,” Hatch said, adding the clinicians on the line are available 24/7 and provide support and crisis counsel, suicide prevention and referral services as needed.
Since its inception in 2016, the SafeUT program has been credited with preventing 86 planned school shootings, Hatch said.
“That number translates to dozens of lives saved and hundreds of heartbreaks spared,” Hatch said. “For thousands of families across the state, this simple app made a world of difference. Imagine the potential if these kinds of technologies were available to students across the country. We could quickly get help for those who need it, and in the process, save countless lives.”
Hatch acknowledged his bill does not address guns and instead encouraged the Senate to pass the Fix NICS Act, which is designed to make sure all criminal records held by federal and state agencies are entered into FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is currently incomplete because many federal agencies and states have not provided all records that establish someone as prohibited from owning a firearm under current law, especially those related to mental health adjudications and involuntary commitment orders,” Hatch said.
Due to the system having incomplete records on one man who had been previously convicted of a domestic violence offense, he was able pass a background check to acquire guns. This man would go on to kill 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
While Hatch supported the Fix NICS Act and urged its passing Monday, the act ultimately failed. Among those who did not support the bill was Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
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